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I adore Istanbul. Turkey was the third country I ever visited (after Mexico and Italy), and I keep returning over and over. But it’s a complicated city for first-time visitors to grapple with. It’s compact yet sprawling. It’s inexpensive yet luxurious. Even though I’m a dog person, I love that it’s a cat city. Istanbul is, to put it succinctly, complex.

So to make it easier for you, we’ve compiled our top fifty Istanbul travel tips. We cover everything from Istanbul safety to cuisine to mosque etiquette. Our hope is that you have as smooth a first trip to Istanbul as possible, so that you, too, want to return over and over again.

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Going to visit Istanbul? Be sure to check out our Istanbul travel blog for 50 incredible Istanbul tips. If it's your first time in Istanbul (or your 5th!) we guarantee you'll find some useful Istanbul advice and recommendations to improve your trip. From the best things to do in Istanbul to avoiding scams in Istanbul to how to haggle in Istanbul markets and what to eat in Istanbul, this post covers all your bases.
Going to visit Istanbul? Be sure to check out our Istanbul travel blog for 50 incredible Istanbul tips. If it's your first time in Istanbul (or your 5th!) we guarantee you'll find some useful Istanbul advice and recommendations to improve your trip. From the best things to do in Istanbul to avoiding scams in Istanbul to how to haggle in Istanbul markets and what to eat in Istanbul, this post covers all your bases.

 

 

Essential Istanbul Travel Tips

I’ve tried to put these in a somewhat logical order, but when writing about a topic this big, things can get out of hand. Basically, I’ve tried to cover every piece of Istanbul travel advice I’d want to tell someone if they’d never set foot in the country before, and I hope the order makes as much sense as can be expected. 

Don’t Show Up without a Visa

Turkey - Istanbul - Sofia to Istanbul Train Turkish Border Crossing
Don’t show up to Turkey without your visa information!

Once upon a time (in 2011), many visitors could show up to Attaturk airport sans visa, pay approximately $20 USD, and voila, they’d get a (pretty cool looking) visa stamp put in their passports.

Well, those days are long gone. Today, visitors from most countries need to apply for an eVisa on their website before getting here. 

We cover this process more in-depth in our guide to planning a trip to Turkey, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Where to Stay in Istanbul?

Turkey - Istanbul - Accommodations
Have your hotel or hostel information in a format that doesn’t require the internet so that you can give it to the border police.

You are supposed to have your accommodation information with you when you arrive in Turkey, and the border police may or may not ask you for it when you get here. If they do ask you for it, make sure to have it printed out or downloaded in your phone, since you may not have internet access when you first get here. 

On my last trip to Istanbul from Sofia, I was asked AND our international roaming plans weren’t working. This was at 4 AM. #nightmare  

So, do show up to Istanbul with accommodations prepared. But where to stay?

Turkey - Istanbul - Hammamhane
The lovely Hammamhane – my top pick for where to stay in Istanbul.

First, you need to decide which neighborhood in Istanbul you want to stay in. Many first-time visitors to Istanbul stay in Sultanahmet, but I prefer getting out to Beyoglu for a less touristy visit. 

If you want to dig into all our Istanbul neighborhood recommendations, we an entire Istanbul neighborhood hotel guide. However, if you don’t want to dig through all of that, here are our top three picks (one for each budget category):

  • Budget: A room in a hostel, usually $5-12 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $40 for a double.
  • Mid-range: Around $40-80
  • Luxury: Around $100 per night or more

Budget: For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the Dreamers B&B. Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. 

>>Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.<<

Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend Peradays. It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. 

>>Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.<<

Luxury: Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love Hammamhane, a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antique district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. 

>>Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here.<<

Still can’t decide? Check out our guide to the best Istanbul neighborhoods and hotels.

When is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sophia - Canva

My favorite time to visit Istanbul is in May and June when it’s not too hot yet. In May, you even get to avoid the summer vacation crowds (meaning there are way fewer kids and families visiting). 

If you want to avoid crowds, I love visiting Istanbul in winter. Here’s an overview of Istanbul weather in January to help you get an idea of what to expect if you come in winter. 

Istanbul is such a great city that I’m confident you’ll have a great time no matter when you come. The only times I would try to avoid it is July and August when the heat is simply sweltering. 

What to Pack for Istanbul

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage
Here are some Istanbul packing essentials

We are in the process of creating packing lists to help you know what to pack for Turkey, but here are the top five things you do not want to leave at home:

1. A Lonely Planet guidebook, to help you plan when on the ground. We recommend the updated Lonely Planet Turkey.

2. An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap SIM card and use apps like Uber and Google Maps. If you don’t have an unlocked phone and it costs too much to get it online, you can buy a cheap but decent one online, like this unlocked Samsung.

3. An extra swimsuit so you can enjoy Turkey’s hammams and beaches without having to put a wet one back on. We like this cute but affordable one-piece.

4. Motion sickness pills for windy roads, Istanbul traffic, ferries, hot air balloon rides, etc. We recommend something natural that uses ginger rather than chemicals to avoid drowsiness, like these motion sickness pills.

5. Sunscreen (if you’re bringing checked luggage). Sunscreen and other cosmetics can be expensive in Turkey compared to back home. You can bring these ones in checked luggage, or if you are packing carry-on only, I love having a solid sunscreen stick that doesn’t cut into my liquid allowance.

Istanbul Airports

Turkey - Istanbul - Leaving Ataturk Airport Stephanie
This is my “I’m dealing with airports in Istanbul” face

Istanbul airports are confusing, and since a new airport just opened this year, the information on most websites is also horribly out of date. 

The airport code IST used to mean Attaturk Airport,  but now is being routed to Istanbul New Airport. This airport is fifty kilometers from the city center. This takes about an hour to go by car, but I would never leave for an airport in Istanbul less than four hours before take off. Anxious flyers should leave five hours early. Between traffic and insane security protocols, flying out of Istanbul can be a real nightmare.

Here’s an overview of the public transportation options to get from IST to the city center. I personally prefer to use Uber since it’s much faster than the bus (and not too expensive). 

The other airport, Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, is SAW. It’s also fifty kilometers from the city center. Here’s an overview of public transportation options to and from SAW. 

If you prefer the peace of mind that comes with pre-booking an airport transfer, they are relatively inexpensive in Istanbul. We strongly recommend pre-booking your transfer with a reputable transfer company. This one has nearly a thousand reviews with an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. Book here now.

Istanbul Bus Stations

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul Train Station
Istanbul traffic can be a headache, so be sure to leave early for your flight!

I always plan to take a bus from Istanbul back to Sofia, and then I always cave and decide I’d rather pay the money for a one hour flight than spend the day on the bus. Therefore, I’ve avoided dealing with the bus stations in Istanbul for my last four trips.

If you do decide to use the buses, here’s a great overview of the different stations and which cities they service. 

Istanbul Train Stations

Turkey - Istanbul - Stephanie Train from Sofia to Istanbul
Arriving in Istanbul by train from Sofia

When I took the train from Sofia to Istanbul, we got out at Halkili station and then transferred to a free shuttle for the last hour into the city. 

Trains are a great way to get around Turkey or to travel to nearby Greece and Bulgaria. Until we have more train trips documented, check out the always knowledgable train website The Man in Seat 61 for information about train travel in Turkey.

Istanbul Taxis

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul Taxi
I’ve heard horror stories about taxis in Istanbul, but I’ve only had pleasant experiences.

Istanbul taxis have a bad reputation. Luckily, when I’ve needed to get in a yellow cab, I’ve never had an issue. However, you should always be on your toes. 

When using taxis in Istanbul, make sure that the meter is turned on. Always ask ahead of time for the meter. If it’s not on by the time the trip starts, ask again. If the driver refuses, get out of the taxi.

If you’re stressed that the taxi is going out of its way, you can run Google maps on your phone to keep an eye on it (just make sure your phone is on silent so the driving directions don’t get read aloud). Sometimes you’ll realize that Istanbul’s streets really are just that byzantine and there’s no better route. This is great for peace of mind. 

Carry small bills if you’ll be using taxis. Pay as close the fare as possible without needing change. Most drivers will give you change, but others might give you a problem hoping you’ll just give them a tip.

You do not need to tip a taxi driver in Istanbul. Just round up to the nearest lira. 

If you use a taxi from an airport, get one in the official taxi stand line. Never get in a random taxi or go with someone who just grabs your bags or tries to get your attention. 

Remember that taxis in Istanbul are relatively inexpensive compared to most of Europe, so if you do get ripped off a bit keep in mind that the actual value of the scam is probably not very much. 

Uber & Taxi Apps

Turkey - Istanbul - Arriving at Ataturk Airport
Waiting for our Uber at the defunct Ataturk airport

If the thought of taxis in Istanbul is giving you anxiety, then use Uber instead. The lowest car level is Uber black, but they are priced insanely well. 

You’ll need internet access to get an Uber, so either make sure you have a sim card, and international plan, or find some wifi. 

My only piece of advice for using Ubers in Istanbul: google whether the company is still operating in Istanbul a few days before your trip.

Why? Well, the government is constantly threatening to shut down Uber because the powerful taxi lobby hates them. While they haven’t been successful yet, just make sure they still are there. I found out that Uber left Athens the hard way. 

Get to Know Your Turkish Lira

Your Lira will go a long way!

If you’re coming from a country that uses the USD, GBP, or the Euro, you’ll love the Turkish Lira. Political volatility has hurt the Turkish economy, and thus the Lira has nearly crashed in the last few years.

Double check the exchange rate before your trip, just in case the currency starts to recover.  Listed rates are as of July 2019.

Currency Code: TRY

Exchange Rate: 1 TRY = 0.16 EUR / 0.18 USD / 0.14 GBP / 0.23 CAD

Most Common Banknotes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200

Most Common Coins: 1, 5Kr, 10Kr, 25Kr, 50Kr

Can I Use My Euros: Sometimes you can use Euros in Istanbul. If prices are listed in Euros, you can bet the exchange rate is inflated. It’s always better to pay in Lira.

If you’ll be visiting other Balkan countries during your trip, check out our Balkan currency guide.

Tipping in Istanbul 

Turkey - Istanbul - Mikla - Turkish Wine Turkish Food
Don’t forget to leave a tip in an Istanbul restaurant!

Tipping is not as common in Istanbul as in the US, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Keep in mind that most of the time, you will not be able to put a tip on a credit card. You need access to small amounts of cash for tips.

Here are the tipping guidelines for different situations:

Restaurants & Bars: tip 5-10%

Taxis: Round up to the nearest Lira

Hammans (Turkish Baths): 10-20%

Housekeeping: 5-10 Lira

Delivery Food: 5-10%

Tour Guides: 20-30 Lira per day per group

Belly Dancers: 5-50 Lira

Salons & Barbers: 15-20%

Using Credit Cards in Istanbul

Credit Card

You will be able to use credit cards at many restaurants, hotels, and other spots in Istanbul that cater to tourists. However, credit card usage is not universal. 

As with the rest of the Balkans, a good rule of thumb is to always ask ahead of time. Between places that don’t take cards, the occasional card reader error, and needing to leave a tip, you’ll always need to have some cash on you. 

Note that American Express is not accepted in most of Europe or Asia, and that includes Istanbul. 

Wifi in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sophia - Collab
I even found awesome wifi at a tourist restaurant outside the Hagia Sophia.

I’ve always been able to find decent wifi in Istanbul. Most Istanbul hotels will have free wifi, but double check before you book anything. 

If it’s critical that you be able to check in to wifi during meals, it’s cool to ask restaurants if they have wifi before sitting down (most will). Besides restaurants, it’s common to find wifi at cafes, bars, and even in some public transportation spots. 

Be careful when using public wifi. It’s a good idea to protect your information with a VPN or DNS. I use Smart DNS Proxy which lets me watch that sweet HULU and HBO from anywhere in the world and alerts me if there’s a security issue on my internet connection. 

Censored Internet

Canva - Google Search Engine on Macbook Pro
Wikipedia will show up in Google results, but you can’t visit the website while in Turkey.

You may be surprised to find out that you can’t access Wikipedia, certain hotel sites, or most porn sites. While these are unlikely to ruin your trip, it can make Turkey a difficult place to do online work from. I was trying to write some articles for National Geographic while I was there last year, and I couldn’t access sites I needed to double check place name spellings.

Of course, the issue of Internet Freedom in Turkey (or lack thereof) affects locals much more than it will affect you, but it’s still good to know ahead of time.

You also may choose to refrain from being critical of the government online in your social media posts while you are in the country.

Getting a Sim Card

Canva - Back view of a woman taking photo with a smartphone
If you need instant internet gratification, pick up a prepaid sim card.

We are in the process of writing our own guide to getting a sim card in Istanbul (similar to our Serbia sim card and Bulgaria sim card guides). Until we have a full write-up, here are some quick tips.

The main companies for pre-paid tourist sims in Istanbul are Turkcell and Vodafone. Turkcell is supposed to be a bit cheaper, but keep in mind that prices fluctuate.

For a little less than 100 Lira (about $18 USD), you can get a sim with 3 GB of data and 500 local calling minutes. This makes sim card prices in Turkey more expensive than Greece, let alone other Balkan countries. However, if you’re a data fiend, then you need the data. 

Smoking Cigarettes

Canva - Woman Holding Cigarette Sitting on Stairs
You can’t smoke inside bars and restaurants in Istanbul, but the weather is usually great for being outside.

Smoking is banned inside restaurants and bars. There are typically designated outdoor smoking sections available. There may be separate smoking sections in some places inside, but it’s not common like it is in Greece. 

This is great news for people who want to avoid secondhand smoke. For smokers, the weather in Istanbul is nice so much of the year that you can sit outside much of the year.

There are some places where people will ignore the laws and smoke inside anyway (though still less frequent than in Greece). I would not personally risk breaking the law in Turkey, but it’s up to you. 

Many hotels have smoking accommodations – check before you book if this is crucial for you to enjoy your trip. 

Pharmacies

Pharmacy

Since Turkey is not in the EU, prescription and medication rules here are different than you may be used to if you come from an EU country. We found that most of what we wanted was available easily, but some things were not. You may be able to get alternatives pretty easy for situations where pharmacies don’t stock a particular brand name that you want.

Pharmacies in Sultanahmet are more expensive than pharmacies in the rest of the city. 

If you plan to buy medications that are cheaper in Turkey than back home, start looking as soon as you get to Istanbul. Since pharmacies are small and owner-operated, you may need to visit a few to find everything you’re looking for. 

Food & Dietary Restrictions

Turkey - Meze Turkish Food - Pixabay

Istanbul is a great place to eat if you are vegan or vegetarian. There are so many restaurant options available, so you can still enjoy a great foodie vacation without cutting corners. Use this vegetarian and vegan guide to Istanbul from one of my favorite local websites. 

If you are traveling to Istanbul and are concerned about how your food allergies will be handled, you’ll be happy to know that most of the restaurants in the busiest parts of the city have servers who speak excellent English. It should not be difficult for you to communicate your food allergy while in the city.

Don’t Drink the Water

Canva - Empty Aqua Plastic Bottle

When I first went to Istanbul in 2011, we were told to avoid the tap water at all costs. Technically the water is now clean enough to drink, but it still has a funky taste that I would avoid. So while you don’t need to freak out and brush your teeth with bottled water, skip drinking directly from the tap.

Get to Know Your Turkish Coffee

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is made by a special brewing process that uses unfiltered coffee grounds. The result? It’s thicker than you may be used to back home (unless you’re from the rest of the Balkans, where this Turkish coffee might just go by another name).

It’s delicious, but you may find it to be an acquired taste. No trip to Istanbul is complete without at least having one cup (or five).

Turkish Wine

Turkey - Istanbul - Local Wine Turkish Food

While Turkey is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, it’s modern wine culture is actually intimately tied to modern Turkish democracy. Kemal Attaturk actually established the country’s first commercial winery in the 1920s. 

Turkish wine doesn’t get exported widely, so make sure to ask your server for recommendations to pair with your meals.

Alcohol Prices

Turkey - Istanbul - Raki - Canva

You will probably find that your money goes very far in Istanbul. That is, until happy hour. The reason? Alcohol prices in Turkey are shockingly high.

The reason prices are so high is that the government has put a heavy sin tax on alcohol. Prices for beer and raki have increased over 600% since Erdoğan came to power in 2003. According to Politico:

Erdoğan has made no secret of his disdain for drinking, once declaring that “whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic.”

On top of taxes, the AKP has introduced restrictions on alcohol sales. Since 2013, shops are banned from selling booze after 10 p.m. and no alcohol may be sold within 100 meters of a mosque.

Advertising of alcohol — just like cigarettes — is prohibited, and alcohol and tobacco products are often blurred out on Turkish television.

Languages

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Souvenirs

While Turkish is the official language, there are multiple minority languages spoken in Turkey as well. If you want to pick up a few Turkish phrases before your trip, we have a section in our Turkey trip planner with about a dozen phrases that will come in handy while you’re here. 

If you don’t speak Turkish, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll find most people in service and tourism working in Istanbul speak excellent English. When in doubt, have a sim card and Google translate on your phone.

The Turkish Alphabet

Canva - Person Holding Turkish Style Tea Bag Tie

The Turkish alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but it incorporates diacritical marks to change the traditional pronunciations of certain letters. In addition, the letters Q, V, and W are only used in loan words and when typing foreign names.

Use this Turkish alphabet explainer to learn the pronunciation of letters in Turkey. 

Safety in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Pixabay

Istanbul, like most major European cities, is mostly safe. Much of the danger associated with the government is aimed at locals, and tourists will rarely be affected.

Like all major cities, you need to be aware of the possibility of terrorism. However, statistically, its unlikely for an incident to happen during your trip. You can check the US State Department website for current advisory warnings.

The real risks for tourist are the same things that can happen in any major city: pickpockets, tourist scams, etc. You should use the same common sense that you use in any large city.

Read: Is Istanbul Safe? 13 Tips to Stay Safe in Istanbul

Common Tourist Scams

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

Tourist scams happen wherever tourists gather. So pay extra attention to your surroundings whenever you’re in the major tourist sites.

One major scam is for people to invite you for a drink. Don’t have a drink with a stranger or take a recommendation for a restaurant or bar from someone on the street. When you get there, they will either rob you or overcharge you.

Another scam is for someone to just start guiding you around without asking you if you want a tour guide. Then they guilt you into paying for the tour. Avoid talking to strangers and don’t go anywhere with anyone you don’t know.

Beware of shoe shiners guilting you into getting a shoe shine. They’ve targeted you because you are an obvious foreigner, and they will overcharge you.

Always check that your bill only includes the dishes you ordered. Most restaurants would not pull a scam and overcharge you, but a few scrupulous ones will. 

Finally, avoid pickpockets by keeping your stuff put away. Never leave your bag unattended (I like to sit with a chair leg through one of the loops on my bag). I also use bags with anti-theft features to help make sure I’m a less desirable target.

Politics…Don’t Talk About (Until You Get Home)

Turkey - Istanbul - Pixabay

Turkey is the only place in the Balkans where you have to deal with this issue, but it is an important one. Follow this advice from the US State Department to avoid becoming an unwitting target. 

Participation in demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey, as well as criticism of the government, including on social media, can result in arrest.

What to Do in an Emergency

Canva - Man Wearing Black Jacket And Brown Backpack

If you have an emergency, notify emergency services. Keep these numbers handy just in case:

Ambulance: 112 
Police: 155
Fire: 110 
Tourism Police: (0212) 5274503 

Electrical Outlets

European Outlets

Turkey uses type F electrical outlets (also typically compatible with type C and E). This is the same as the rest of continental Europe.

Squat Toilets

Canva - Toilet Signage Beside Green Leaf

I saw my first squat toilet in Istanbul (though it would be far from my last squat toilet). In Istanbul, most stalls in women’s bathrooms will be western-style flush toilets, but there will sometimes be squat toilets as an option in one of the stalls. 

You most likely will not need to use one unless you travel out into rural Turkey. 

Don’t Call it Constantinople

Turkey - Istanbul - Fountain - Canva

Constantinople fell in the 15th century. At this point, if you’re walking around calling the city Constantinople and refusing to call it Istanbul, you’re probably a jerk.

Learn a Bit of Turkish History Before You Get Here

Turkey - Istanbul - Whirling Dervish Show - Canva

The history of Istanbul goes back to Emperor Constantine (though technically it was a Greek city even before that). If you want to brush up on the city’s history before you come, you can check out these podcasts:

Enjoy the Call to Prayer

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortakoy Mosque at Sunset - Canva

If this is the first Muslim-majority city that you’ll be visiting, get ready for a treat! Listening to the call to prayer is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have anywhere in the world. Even non-Muslims can appreciate the beauty and tradition of this moment.

The call to prayer, known as the ezan, happens five times a day. The sound you’re hearing comes from the speakers in the minarets of the city’s various mosques. 

Respecting Islam

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque

Turkey is a secular Islamic country, and the vast majority of Turks are Muslims. Whether they are believers or not, practicing Muslims or not, this is a part of the cultural heritage of almost everyone you meet.

If you can’t be respectful of Islam by adhering to the few (extremely minor) ways to show respect, then just stay home. Don’t come and be an ugly tourist. This would include asking people blunt questions about why Islam has various rules, etc.

The only people you should ask about Islamic practices are tour guides on education tours about Islam or museum guides. It’s not a local’s job to teach you about religion. They’re just trying to live their lives. 

This guide from Passion Passport offers a great overview of how to be respectful of Islam in Istanbul. 

Visiting Mosques

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortakoy Mosque
Inside the lusciously pink-frosted Ortakoy Mosque

You absolutely need to visit some mosques during your time in Istanbul. To do this properly, you’ll need to adhere to a few simple rules.

1. Only visit when it’s not prayer time. If you see that a prayer service is going on wait until it is over. Don’t try to visit on Friday nights. 

2. Take your shoes off. At most mosques, you will leave your shoes outside, but at the Blue Mosque, you’ll carry them with you in a plastic bag.

3. Men should wear pants rather than shorts. Remove any hats before entering.

 4. Women should also be covered up. Wear clothes that go past the elbow and should be covered in either pants or a long skirt. If it’s hot out, you can just bring leggings and a jacket to put on before you enter. Most mosques will have cover-ups for tourists outside.

5. Women’s hair should be completely covered. I like to bring my own scarf, but most mosques in Istanbul will have headscarves that you can borrow for your visit. 

Get Out of Sultanahmet

Turkey - Istanbul - Colorful Houses - Canva Purchase

Don’t spend every minute in Sultanahmet. In fact, I think it’s best to spend most of your trip outside of this congested (expensive area). I’d rather come to visit the sites for a day or two, and then I spend the rest of my trip in the cool parts of Beyoglu and in Kadikoy.

Be Considerate of the Restoration Work

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sofia

Yes, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are under restoration right now. In all likelihood, these two ancient buildings will be under some kind of restoration for the rest of time. Don’t complain about it. Instead, be grateful to every restoration project that happened in the past that allowed you to be lucky enough to see these sacred places.

How to Haggle at the Bazaars

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Spices - Pixabay

Don’t accept any listed price when in the Grand Bazaar – the whole point is to haggle! Don’t worry about what they quote you. I like to go by this advice:

I pay absolutely no attention to what the first asking price is. I decide how much I am willing to spend, and then I offer 50% less than what my final offer will be.

If my offer is rejected out of hand, then I know that there is no point in spending any time with the salesperson. If he moves his price in my direction, I will start to move up in 5% to 10% intervals.

If we never reach an agreement about price, I simply say I am sorry but I cannot spend anything above my final offer. I either ask to see something less expensive or I start to walk away. Almost always the salesperson will call me back and we find something in the neighborhood of the price I have already pre-determined in my head.

For us, the secret is not to become so caught up in the game that you feel you have to “win” by offering prices that are higher than what you originally decide to spend.

If you cannot get your price, keep walking and looking. You will likely find something similar on the next street and a salesperson who will deal with you more equitably.

It is a poor strategy to overly praise what you are thinking of purchasing, and certainly a mistake to let the salesperson see that you really want what you are attempting to purchase. Make them believe that you are only semi-interested in the product.

I also like to keep small amounts of cash in different pockets. That way I can get my cash out and show that I literally can’t pay more than I’m offering, and they can take it or leave it. 

Turkish Bath Etiquette

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Bath Hammam

When in Turkey, you must go to a Turkish bath! Called hammams, they’re everywhere. In fact, you could go to a new one every day of your trip and not run out of places to relax.

A few things to know before your first hammam trip:

1. Men and Women have separate facilities (or different hours). There are no co-ed Turkish baths.

2. You’ll be given a towel to cover yourself. Men typically only wear a towel. Women are also typically given a pair of underwear. 

3. If you don’t want to wear the underwear you’re given (or go naked), you can wear your own underwear. Plain black will blend in the best. Plus size women might want to just bring a pair of plain black underwear just to be safe in case the one-size-fits-all pair they give you is a bit snug.

4. Expect the women’s side to be staffed with women and the men’s side to be staffed by men.

5. Expect to tip 10-20% at the end of your visit. You will need to tip this in cash. 

6. Some hammams take credit cards (though not for the tip), but not all do. Call ahead if this will be critical.

Don’t Eat Lunch at Topkapi Palace

Turkey - Istanbul - View from the Cafeteria at Topkapi Palace

I’ve traveled to over sixty countries, and the costs of a simple lunch at Topkapi Palace shocked me to my very core. The views from the courtyard are stunning, so it’s worth coming by. But don’t show up famished needing a meal! 

Spend Some Time on the Water

Turkey - Istanbul - Fisherman in Bebek

Whether you walk on the Bosphorus, take a cruise in the city at night, hire a private yacht, or go swimming, do not go to Istanbul and not spend at least some time on the water! The city is blessed with some of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world.

If you get stuck in Sultanahmet and don’t get out, you’ll miss how beautiful the Bosphorus and Golden Horn truly are. 

Don’t Forget to See Europe & Asia

Turkey - Istanbul - Bosphorus Bridge - Canva

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m super guilty of this. There’s so much to do on the European side of Istanbul that I get caught up and forget to make it to Asia. But what’s the fun of being in a city that straddles two continents if you don’t take advantage?

There are some great things to do on the Asian side of Istanbul, so make sure you have time to enjoy them!

Don’t Miss the Sunsets

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque at Sunset - Canva

Sunset in the Balkans are epic (my theory is that this is the only benefit to the teensy bit of extra smog we have in the region). If you can, try to be somewhere to take advantage of the great sunsets (or sunrises) the city has to offer. 

Istanbul Shopping

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Souvenirs

I think Istanbul is one of the best shopping cities in the world, and I don’t just mean the Grand Bazaar!

I always come back with extra bags of art, Turkish delight, and too many boxes of tea. If you want to know what’s special to buy in Istanbul, check out our Turkish souvenir and Istanbul shopping guide. 

Give Yourself Some Free Time

I personally think most travelers cram way too much into their days. While in Istanbul give yourself some time to slow down and appreciate the atmosphere.

Sip your tea slowly, have a coffee, enjoy a long mezze, and stroll aimlessly down the city’s streets. You’ll get just as much enjoyment from people watching in Istanbul as you will trying to hit every single “must-see” museum.

Wear Comfy Shoes

Turkey - Istanbul - Beyoğlu Street Sign

If you plan on hitting all of the best things to do in Istanbul, prepared to have tired feet at the end of the day! While you may be jealous of how (ridiculously) fashionable people are in Istanbul, you’ll be happier if you’re wearing shoes that can keep up with your tour schedule. 

Istanbul & Cappadocia – Not as Close as You Might Like

Turkey - Canva - Cappadocia - Best Places to Visit in Turkey

A lot of travelers want to combine a trip to Istanbul and Cappadocia, but they’re not exactly near each other. We don’t suggest doing Cappadocia as a day trip from Istanbul. If you do want to combine these two Turkish hotspots, check out our guide to how to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia and our suggested Cappadocia itinerary.

Only have time for one of these cities? Check out Istanbul or Cappadocia: Which Turkish Destination Is Right For You?

Don’t Feel like You Need to Hear a Spiel about Carpets 

Turkey - Istanbul - Grand Bazaar - Pixabay

If you’re in a situation where someone starts a sales pitch, you don’t have to listen to it. While I personally find salespeople in Israel and Jordan much pushier than in Turkey, Istanbul might be a shock if you’ve never been to this part of the world before. 

If your tour guide takes you to a carpet store or other shop, they would get a commission. You do not need to stay and hear the pitch or buy anything. You can extricate yourself from the situation politely, but don’t feel you need to stay. 

Enroll in the STEP Program

Turkey - Istanbul - Galata Tower Stephanie

If you’re an American and you are concerned about the possibility of terrorism or political unrest while in Turkey, you can enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program. This lets the government know your travel plans, and they will also email you to alert you if anything happens on the ground.

To be honest, I don’t use it when I go to Turkey (though I probably should) since I feel pretty safe there. I have used it while traveling in Tunisia during protests, and I appreciated the up-to-date emails with what to look out for and areas to stay away from.

There is a similar program for Canadians. If you are a citizen of another country, check with your government to see if they provide these services. 

Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

Turkey - Istanbul - View from Mikla

It’s always a good idea to travel to Turkey or anywhere in Europe with a valid travel insurance policy. Istanbul is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

More Istanbul Travel Resources

Turkey - Istanbul - Stephanie Ortakoy Mosque

We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip to Istanbul! We’re working on our massive things to do post in Istanbul and our Istanbul safety tips, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, our favorite Istanbul neighborhoods and where to stay, and tips for shopping in Istanbul.

If you will be visiting in winter, we have a special winter in Istanbul guide plus an overview of Istanbul weather in January.

If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!

For more general Turkey information, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide to other beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Pin these Istanbul Travel Tips for Your Trip!